Saturday, 27 March 2010

Inspiration everywhere

It's been a bizarre start to the weekend but one that has fuelled some new ideas for articles: last night one of the neighbour's teenage children and their gang decided to have a party and they were outside for ages making a lot of noise. This morning a hole has appeared, ripped out in the bit of fence in the gap between our two houses with empty beer cans and bottles of beer in two bags by the hole! Thankfully, from my point of view, the hole is in their bit of fence and not ours  -  but unfortunately for them there will be hell to pay when their mum comes back - as it appears the little darlings have scarpered and it looks like their mum is away - but when I see her I will be informing her of her little darlings' antics and reminding her of her responsibilities as a parent and neighbour to ensure her kids toe the line and don't cause her neighbour a sleepless night.

Ordinarily, as I have done in the past, I would have gone out and told them to shut up and go away.  If they hadn't, the police would have been called (they usually go away with that threat as they know that I actually will call the police!) But as my husband was on nights and it was just me and my daughter in the house, I decided revenge would be a dish best served cold and their mother could have the piece of my mind that her kids were going to get!

I intend to make them pay  -  literally!  There is enough material there for several articles aimed at  different markets: teenage drinking problems, unsocial behaviour, teenage drinking and violence/criminal damage, noisy neighbours, community policing, neighbourhood watch schemes, even the fiction market. It's a treasure chest full of potential sales!

I also took my daughter to a pet shop who were holding a workshop on keeping lizards. The assistant was so knowledgeable and informative plus I got to hold a bearded dragon and it was so cute. My daughter didn't want to hold it as she was obsessed with the rabbits  - but I know I'll be going back there to see if I can do an interview and take some photos  - again several possible articles there too.

Now the weather is supposed to be getting better (don't forget to put your clocks forward tonight  -  ooh another idea for an article or two) it presents us with more opportunities to get out there and find stuff to write about. In my experience, as the above examples show, you don't always have to go that far to find article fodder!

Happy writing!

I wish I was a fly on next door's wall when mother finds out about the fence  -  a writers' dream!

Julie xx

Sunday, 21 March 2010

How do you do it?

While I was at my writing group yesterday I was asked a couple of questions relating to article writing by other members who have had some publishing success but who were feeling put off by rejections and didn't really know how to go about finding stuff to write about or how to find writing outlets for their work. It can be really difficult when you first start off in your writing career to be able to see the wood for the trees so this is what I advised:

A/ Get a copy of the Writers' and Artists' year book and/or Writer's Market and read through it. Both books have masses of advice for writers and also listings of publishers, agents and magazines that you can approach with your proposals/work. I would say these two books are an essential bit of kit for freelance writers. You can get them on Amazon quite cheaply and they will pay for themselves several times over if you use the advice in them.

B/Scour the shelves of your local newsagent (and the ones out of your locality when you go on your hols/day trips etc). You will find loads of potential markets for your work and be able to see the types of article they publish and all the clues as to who their target readership is will be in there too.

C/ Don't be afraid to contact the magazine editor to ask if they take freelance contributions to the magazine and how they like their submissions. Most magazines will have contact details inside either a phone number or e-mail address/snail mail address. The magazine may also have a website - so have a snoop on there too. They may have their submission guidelines you can download from their website or an e-mail address you can request them from.

D/ Always be on the lookout for new article material: local/national newspapers, local/national magazines, the library, free magazines, trade magazines, newsletters, local schools and college newsletters. Keep your ear to the ground of what is happening at a national level and how that impacts on your locality. Also, take a look around your community  - are there any special events/anniversaries coming up? Is there anyone doing an interesting job/hobby? Charity workers? Any unusual jobs or hobbies? Local history. All of these and more will keep you in articles for years as you can get several articles with a different slant and different markets all from one topic.

E/ Always aim to get two or more articles out of one idea. If you word it and style it towards different magazines you can sell an idea several times over  - as long as you don't sell exactly the same article to rival magazines at the same time there's nothing to stop you from writing with a different slant and changing the wording/style to suit several markets.

F/ Don't be shy! Get out there  - if you don't ask you don't get. The people you want to interview and write about might say no, but they very often will say yes!

G/ Don't be put off by rejection. I send many, many, many article proposals out to magazine editors each week. Some are ignored, some are an instant no, some take a few weeks and are then a no, but increasingly I am getting yesses!! If the editor says no then re-pitch your idea to another editor and so on and so on until one says yes! If you get to the stage where you have exhausted possible outlets for your idea then have a rethink  -  rework it and try again. Most editors will not tell you why they don't want your article but just because they say no doesn't mean it's not good enough. KEEP TRYING. And if they say no to this idea they may well say yes to your next. I think I had about 8 ideas rejected by Writing Magazine until the 9th idea was accepted!

H/ Be persistant. In my experience, it takes a long time to get published and get paid for your published work. I spent months writing my articles for free but they were still a publication to go in my portfolio that I could mention to the editors I was sending my proposals to. It's taken a good year of writing part-time to get to the stage I am now. It may take you less time or longer. But the important thing is to KEEP TRYING!

The answer to the other question I was asked of where I get my ideas from I said everwhere! If you belong to a writing group or know of a writing group in your area you have the perfect supermarket within which to shop for ideas! And don't assume that they are all writers so are already taking all the best ideas and writing about each other because they are not! If the opportunity is there and you have willing participants then take it! If anyone moans that they never get a look in and that you are always taking the opportunities just smile and say, but you could do it too! There's nothing to stop the other members from approaching guest speakers and each other to write about them. They just need to do it while they have the chance.

You don't have to do a course to become a published freelance writer but I am but I'm still undecided as to whether it's actually benefitting me and improving my writing (see a previous post! Different Opinions).

I've just finished reading an excellent book on freelance writing that I picked up from the library on Friday. I hadn't been in there for ages but I'm glad I did. The book is called The Freelance Writer's Handbook (How to make money and enjoy your life) by Andrew Crofts. Piatkus publishers 2007. ISBN 0-7499-2763-1. It has a plain talking style with oodles of great advice if you are just starting out in freelancing. He is a man after my own heart!

I have sent another pitch out this week and will be sending  at least five more out next week. I'm supposed to be concentrating on my short story writing for the women's mags but I have been distracted by all the article ideas popping into my head. It must be something to do with Spring! But I am determined to have as much success with my short stories as I have with my articles. It's going to be tough and a lot of hard work, but I know I can and will get there  - and you will achieve your writing goals too.

Happy writing


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

It's not just about the articles

I love writing articles but more than this I adore getting out and meeting and interviewing people. I find other people fascinating and I believe that everyone has a story in them that is just itching to come out in article form. I also love it when an article I've written goes beyond the actual publication and good things happen afterwards.

For instance, I was showing my archery article to a head teacher and she was interested in having the archrery group in to do some archery with the kids. So I contacted the chap in charge of one of the archery groups and he was pleased - so I'll be passing his details on to the school and hopefully the kids can have a go at archery! Something they've not had at the school before.

Similarily my article in Writing Magazine featuring two local authors has also interested the same head teacher and I hope the school will be inviting one of the authors to do an assembly/workshop soon. It's not just about being published for me  -  it's about seeking out the good stuff that goes on in the community and heralding this. I'm not a 'misery' writer or interested in sensationalist reporting or banging on about all the rubbish and bad stuff that goes on  -  we hear enough of that! I love to see the positive in the people/subjects I write about. I did, of course, in the past, write moaning letters to the local press (they do love to print a good old moan!)  but there came a time when I had to move on from that  -  although it was a great way to let of steam!

Why not try this exercise when you are writing articles. Write about the same subject but in one version write it with a negative slant and in another version write only the positive  -  your third article should be a balanced blend of the two. Editors don't want a too-good-to-be-true sycophantic article about a subject or person, neither do they want a damning (potentially libel providing) thrashing!  So a balance of light and shade is  advisable. For instance - someone may appear to have the perfect life but may have suffered a tragedy in their personal life that made them stronger and who they are today as a result.  But do check with the interviewee that they are happy for you to write this in to the article  - they may not be, and you don't want to upset anyone.

I'm still not sure about letting the people I write about see the finished article before publication: on the one hand I can see that it helps with accuracy and there can be no come back from a disgruntled person you've interviewed when there's something wrong if they've seen it and 'okayed' it! But recently I did let an interviewee see the article I'd written about their work and it was a complete nightmare! And even when the articles had been submitted they still contacted me, even though they knew the articles had been accepted for publication , because they'd found a couple of points they weren't happy with (this was after they'd already seen and commented on the article three times!) So you can see why I'm a little reluctant! I'm learning all the time and the journalism course I'm doing is helping a great deal (bearing in mind I'm taking some of my tutor's comments with a pinch of salt! It's a writer's prerogative  -  we can't help it! There is more than one way to do things too).

One of the three recent pitches I made was a definite no. The second was a 're-pitch it in a couple of months. I'm a bit snowed under at the moment," and the third I haven't heard anything about, which usually means it's a no. But as every good article writer knows, you can't let rejections get you down  -  for every no you get you have to send another pitch out. It's the only way. If one editor doesn't want one of your ideas then pitch that idea elsewhere, go back to the drawing board and pitch a new idea to the editor who rejected your original idea  -  keep on the hamster wheel!

Happy writing

Julie xx

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Like Buses

Well what do you know! Just as I'm trying to get a couple of short stories written and subbed and telling you all that I was concentrating on writing short stories and leaving the articles alone for a while, three article ideas came into my head and I just had to propose them to three different magazines! Where did the ideas come from? Who knows! I was leafing through the dictionary (as we writers do) and PING! There they were, dancing the salsa around in my head!

Don't get me wrong. I'm pleased that the ideas decided to come to me at this moment as I was starting to worry that I'd never have a good article idea again. So there you go; this is my advice of the day: if you are having trouble coming up with great article ideas, go off somewhere and think about/do something else for a while and when you least expect it the ideas will come to you in a flash of inspiration.

I always find the changing seasons to be most inspiring so, as it is almost Spring, why not get out there and be inspired by nature and all the rebirth and growth that is going on around us after the long, dark, cold days of Winter? You may be surprised by what you discover. Don't forget your notebook and camera, though! Oh and your thermals  - it's still a bit chilly out there.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Different opinions

I had my second assignment back from my journalism course today and although the comments were mainly positive and encouraging, the tutor suggested something I'd never heard of or seen before. She advised me to put the first word of the first paragraph in each article in capital letters and not just the first letter. I've never done this before and never seen it in any books about writing that I've read before, either. It threw me a bit as I've had several articles accepted for publication now and none of the editors have mentioned this. Has anyone else done it?

I just found it an interesting comment The course is great and I'm enjoying doing it. I realise that courses don't suit everyone but I'm glad I'm taking this one. I've learned so much already and I know I will continue to learn more that will improve my writing.

I've got one article out there awaiting a verdict and one more to edit to resend out soon. Then it's back to the drawing board to have a think about what subjects I might write articles about next. It's a good job that assignment four is about doing just that - it couldn't have come at a better time for me as I was having some difficulty in thinking about what to write next. So I thought if I did some fiction for a while and assignment three (letters and fillers) by the time I get to do assignment three I will have some great ideas.

It's an ongoing process: thinking of ideas, pitching ideas to editors, researching, interviewing, writing the article, submitting, resubmitting, writing from a different slant and pitching to other markets. Never ending! And you have to keep on top of it if you want to see a steady stream of your work published.

Happy researching and writing

Julie xx

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Waiting Game

It seems to have taken forever for me to see my articles in print. They are like buses; you never see one then you get two or three turning up at once! I've had quite a good run of them lately which I am estatic about but it wasn't always that way. It's taken me  two years to get to where I am now and a lot of hard work and rejections inbetween. I started off with letters to local magazines and newspapers and after a few publications in there I progressed to national newspapers and mags: won some pens, a night in a luxury hotel for two, £50, a £50 book voucher at Amazon, £25  -  it soon mounts up.

But I knew I couldn't stay purely producing letters for the rest of my writing life so I moved on to short stories and articles. The short story side of things didn't go well, resulting in one sale out of 40 odd short stories submitted. But the articles flew! I started off in the small presses, community magazines, The Link (National Association of Writers' Groups publication) where there was no payment but the work was published! After success here, I moved on to bigger publications and was delighted to see my work in print and actually get paid for it!

That's the trick with writing, you have to keep that forward momentum going. If you don't keep producing a variety of articles with different themes you may find yourself overtaken by someone who is flexible and can adapt their writing style to what the editors want. That's why I decided to take the journalism course - to enhance my writing skills and learn to do better  -  and it's paying off - slowly!

I used to get so frustrated that it took months to hear back from editors about your work - sometimes never - and when I got emails from magazines saying yes, once I got over the shock I was amazed how long it took from acceptance to publication! Still am. When I've finished a batch of articles I always go through a fallow period where I don't think I'll ever find anything to write about again. But then a magazine will pop through my door with my article in it and it's like magic - ideas begin to pop into my head again. There's always something to write about - you just have to open your eyes and look; be still and listen. Look and listen to what is going on around you and take notes.

I'm still on the short story road at the moment but I'm still keping my ear to the ground for nuggets I can process into articles at a later date. For instance, I went to the town centre today, primarily to get some new clothes and a desk lamp which I purchased (the clothes were purchased within 15 minutes of looking which is good going for me as I hate shopping, and if I can't see what I want within half an hour, I'm out of there!) But I was also watching the people around me, listening to their coversations: there was an Eastern European elderly gentleman with a lovely white bushy and curled moustache sitting on a chair outside busking, playing an accordian; a group of people with a stand about dosmestic violence; a whole 'street' within the town centre devoted to a college whose students were showcasing their wares  - there's enough material there for at least six different articles, maybe more, for starters!

Happy being nosy and gathering material for your articles!

Julie xx